Rhetoric around the house

Dave Clark (2010) had a hard time finding a good definition of “technology in his essay “Shaped and Shaping Tools.” I feel confident seven years later academia has caught up and crafted a definition of technology that includes rhetoric. Because around my house, the non-humans are more adept at persuasive discourse than the human. Here’s my list, starting from the top:

1. Socks. I learned watching the Canadian Broadcasting documentary The Lion in Your Living Rooma cat’s meow is the same frequency as a baby’s cry. So Socks uses pathos to express his desires. Here he is asking to go outside.

2. Roomba. My vacuuming robot would be a great example of rhetorical technology because she uses ethos, pathos, and logos to communication and she’s not nearly as demanding as the cat. I’ll tell you how she accomplishes this using actor-network theory.

Clark (2010) touched on actor-network theory toward the end of his essay. I think actor-network is important to the discussion of rhetoric and technology because the theory states that “almost all of our interactions with other people are mediated through objects of one kind or another” according to John Law (1992) in “Notes on the Theory of the Actor-Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity (p. 381). In 1992, Law (1992) used an example of an overhead projector to make his point of how things mediate communication (p. 382). Today, Law (2010) would have several examples to chose from, including Twitter which was Clark’s (2010) “current techno-rhetorical obsession” in 2009 (p. 86).

I think Roomba shows some advancements in rhetorical technology because she communicates directly with the user; her communications are not mediated. Her ethical appeal is derived from the fact that she is capable cleaner. Some friends and recommended Roomba, but we were skeptical because of the $600 price tag, but she was worth the investment. Before Roomba joined us, the house needed to be vacuumed at least weekly to keep up with the dog’s shedding. I see Roomba’s logical appeal every time I empty her bin and dump out all the dog hair and cat litter she’s collected around the house. Roomba appeals to me emotionally, too,  because I associate her with positive experiences. After she completes a job, her associated cell phone app generates a map that shows me where she cleaned.


Roomba’s success is due to the fact that her designers at iRobot did not just build a vacuuming robot, but they considered the other actors who would interact with the robot. In Roomba’s case, the other actors are people of varying technical backgrounds. The app offers written, photographic and video demonstrations on how to troubleshoot and conduct routine maintenance. And Roomba’s debris extractors are designed so the user cannot put them back in the wrong positions.

Hopefully, products like Roomba can help researchers like Clark (2010) better define technology and how products can use rhetoric to provide a better experience for consumers.

3. Husband. Does not use ethos, pathos, or logos, but still somehow manages to get his way … sometimes.


Posted on November 5, 2017, in Digital, Literacy, Social Media, Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I attempt to use logos to make my point at home, but I think I have failed to build up the necessary ethos over the past 25 years. Seriously, though, I would not have immediately thought of a device like a Roomba employing rhetoric, but this is a good example of the rhetoric of technology. It’s designers (and documenters) employed rhetoric in making owning a Roomba a desirable experience. I wondered how on earth you would illustrate pathos in this example, but now I get it, as I imagine the emotional satisfaction of sitting with my feet up as a robot cleans my house.

  2. Hi Dan,

    I probably wouldn’t appreciate Roomba as much as I do, but after reading “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman, I noticed how well she was designed. Norman said products should be a pleasure to use. Roomba never gives me any headaches. When she’s having issues, it’s easy to troubleshoot and repair her. I can’t say that for a lot of the products in my house, namely the DVR that likes to spontaneously not record shows.

    Good luck with your continued use of ethos and pathos around the house!


  3. 1.) I love Socks! So adorable. I spent the past 10 minutes trying to get my cat, Leonidas, to do something cute on video. He just ignored me.

    2.) I love how you incorporated Roomba’s design into your post. The reading really did make me think a lot about UX and designing for usability. I actually thought of “The Design of Everyday Things” when reading it as well. I can’t agree more that Roomba’s success is driven by the designers consideration for the users of the system.

    This reminded me of my UX course. We were shown Katerina Kamprani’s designs which can be found here: https://www.theuncomfortable.com/

    If we were to envision the design of software technologies as a physical medium, I’m sure some would look similar to Kamprani’s work.

    3.) Hah! “The Rhetoric of My Husband” has a fantastic ring to it.

    • Hi Miriam,

      Thanks for your comments. It sounds like your Leonidas is much more cat-like than my Socks, who also begs for table scraps with the dog at dinner time.

      I feel like some of Roomba’s designers must have read “The Design of Everyday Things.” If Roomba doesn’t tell me what’s wrong with her, the app will. Thanks for sharing The Uncomfortable. It looks like Katerina took “coffee pot for masochists” to the next level.

      Jennifer R.

  4. Whoa–I have a Roomba but was not made aware of the app. I actually don’t even use it on a timer, maybe because I’m so entranced when I watch it clean! I’m currently more intrigued by devices like Alexa because, in the vein of Turkle, I feel like you have to ask her simple questions in order to get any response. I don’t use Siri, so I’m not sure how she stacks up. Anyone here rely heavily on these types of devices in the home?

    • Prof. Pignetti,

      I use Siri for simple tasks like sending text messages, looking up contacts, or performing simple calculations. My husband likes to ask Siri “What is 0 divided by 0” and “Easter Egg” questions like that. We don’t have Google Home or Alexa.

      Jennifer R.

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